Oak Bay is examining options to restrict dogs on the south end of Willows Beach in order to protect the 153 species of birds sighted in the area – a number that makes it one of the best birding areas in Victoria.
The Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary, spanning from the Gorge, through Victoria Harbour, and along the shoreline up to the Oak Bay region, was established in 1923 to actively protect species and ecosystems directly affected by human activity.
A stretch of coastline around the Bowker estuary in Oak Bay provides especially attractive habitat for birds, and bird advocates are calling for more protection in that area.
Citing “recent conflicts and screaming matches” between dog owners and birdwatchers at Bowker Reef, Jacques Sirois, chair of Friends of Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary, is calling for a new bylaw banning dogs at the south end of Willows Beach, from Bowker Avenue to Bowker Creek estuary.
Currently, dogs are permitted off-leash on Willows Beach through the winter but it closes to four-legged visitors from May 1 to Sept. 30 each year.
The new proposal suggests a year-round ban on dogs in the south rocky portion.
Sirois brought the suggestion forward to the Parks, Recreation & Culture Commission, who then presented the idea to the March 18 Committee of the Whole.
District staff were directed to examine options to restrict dogs from the south end of Willows Beach and bring a report forward to a future council meeting.
“It is not that we are banning dogs, they would still be welcome in the biggest portion of Willows from October to April,” said Coun. Hazel Braithwaite. “It is just in this specific part of Willows that we are looking to balance what is good for the dogs and owners and what is good for the bird sanctuary and what we have there.”
District staff are already in the process of revising the Animal Control Bylaw and council said that options for restricting dogs in the suggested area can come forward together with the proposed bylaw revisions for council consideration.
It is expected staff will come back in a month or two with information, after which time public input will be sought, said Braithwaite.
In 2017, Nature Canada, the largest lobby group of naturalists in Canada, and the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia recognized Greater Victoria as a NatureHood site – an ideal place for urban Canadians to connect with nearby nature and urban wildlife.
A live bird list of species sighted in the Oak Bay area can be found at ebird.org/canada/hotspot/L1298602.
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